Skip to main content

Full text of "potts"

See other formats


The Iranian Plateau 

Barbara Hdwing 

1 Introduction 

The development from incipient village life to proto-urban settlements unfolded 
on the Iranian highlands over a period of roughly five millennia, from the early 
8th millennium until the first centuries of die 3rd millennium BC, in lockstep 
with parallel developments in other regions of Western Asia. During this long 
stretch of time, periods of regionalization alternated with periods of more exten- 
sively visible similarities over wider areas, but transitions from one period to the 
next in most cases remain unclear. The rugged terrain of the high mountains of 
the Zagros and Alburz mountains favors distinct regionalism, as do select, oasis- 
like locations around the Dasht-e Kavir and Dasht-e Lut deserts that equally 
provided a matrix for the establishment of settlements. The development of local 
cultural sequences has therefore to be studied in light of this specific geography 
(Ch. 1.1). This chapter will provide a broad overview of these processes, with 
their ups and downs, their transitions, and their punctuated changes, in order to 
locate the specific track of development in highland Iran within the broader 
framework of the Western Asian Neolithic and Chalcolithic. 

2 Archaeological Sources, Sequences, and Biases 

Prehistoric sites in highland Iran are represented mostly by settlement mounds 
that have formed over millennia from the accumulated debris layers of buildings 

A Companion to the Archaeology of the Ancient Near East, First Edition. 

Edited by D.T. Potts. 

© 2012 Blackwell Publishing Ltd. Published 2012 by Blackwell Publishing Ltd. 

502 Varieties of Early Village and, Town Life 

constructed from mud (chineh) and mudbrick. Although these are not the only 
known prehistoric monuments, these mounded sites (Persian tepe/tappeh) clearly 
dominate the known archaeological record, since archaeological prospections 
carried out by numerous expeditions since the 1920s have concentrated largely 
on their documentation. A second settlement category is represented by cave 
sites, often used seasonally as camps by hunters or shepherds. With a few excep- 
tions (Abdi 2002), such cave sites have mosdy been investigated within the 
framework of Paleolithic research, and the recording of later cultural remains 
happened ratiier randomly. A third major group are flat sites, but due to their 
relative invisibility most of these have escaped recognition, except in the case of 
accidental discovery or, more recently, systematic walking surveys (Coningham 
et al. 2004; Schmidt and Fazeli 2007). Besides settlement sites, open-air work- 
shops for flintknapping and mining sites for the extraction of metal ores are also 
known. With the exception of Chalcolithic examples recorded in the high valleys 
of the Pusht-e Kuh/Ilam (Haerinck and Overlaet 1996), a region that has been 
thoroughly investigated, cemeteries are a site category that is, in the current state 
of research, virtually absent from the archaeological record of the early periods. 

This predisposition toward unequal recovery is further exacerbated by the 
orography and hydrography in the highlands, where active tectonics and heavy 
erosion are effective even over short time periods, and large-scale landslides that 
have buried sites in the plains are recorded as recently as the 13th century AD 
(Brookes et al. 1982). The highly active geomorphology of the landscape leads 
in consequence to the silting-up of rivers and hence to the invisibility of many 
ancient sites. Survey results, therefore, cannot be taken at face value and the 
underrepresentation of specific archaeological periods that is at the heart of most 
arguments about demographic developments over time may well be an artifact 
of archaeological exploration (Schmidt and Fazeli 2007; Helwing et al. 2010). 

The rugged terrain in the mountainous zones of highland Iran and the enor- 
mous distances between oasis locations around the central deserts are factors that 
contribute to the high variability of the archaeological record throughout the 
region, and thus to distinct regional sequences. The status of research between 
these individual regions also varies greatly, with most research concentrated in 
the southern and southwestern part of the country. Only a few reference sequences 
that cover the development of the Neolitiiic and Chalcolithic period are available 
- e.g., in Fars (Sumner 1977; Voigt and Dyson 1992; Alizadeh 2006) and on 
the western central plateau (Ghirshman 1938; Majidzadeh 1981; Fazeli et al. 
2005; Fazeli Nashli et al. 2009), so that any large-scale discussion has necessarily 
to extrapolate from die very few available projects that stand out. An additional 
research bias is due to the different approaches used by the respective archaeo- 
logical schools to which we owe the principal research. Excavations in huge, 
multi-period sites that still form the backbone of chronological sequencing 
throughout the country, such as Tepe Hissar (Schmidt 1937), Tepe Sialic (Ghir- 
shman 1938) and Tepe Giyan (Contenau and Girshman 1935), were carried out 

The Iranian Plateau 503 

mostly in the early days of international archaeological research in Iran which 
began in the 1930s. These early expeditions yielded large-scale exposures, but 
were characterized by relatively poor observation of archaeological layers and 
contexts, and most of these sites have, as a consequence, been reinvestigated 
at one point or another. A second phase of research into the early periods of 
sedentary life was carried out largely within a framework of environmental archae- 
ology and "New Archaeology," introduced to Iran in 1959 by Robert J. Braid- 
wood and his "Prehistoric Project" (Braidwood 1961), and subsequently 
elaborated by his students and colleagues. As a result, there are some sites that 
have yielded a wealth of data on subsistence and environment, while at the same 
time enormous stretches of land remain unknown. With regard to the early proto- 
urban sites, large-scale excavations have taken place since the late 1960s in a few 
select locations, and it is from these that most of our current knowledge stems. 
Due to the interruption of systematic fieldwork in the years following the Iranian 
revolution in 1979 (Azarnoush and Helwing 2005), the status of research in 
highland Iran remains, however, "delayed" when compared to the current hot 
spots of prehistoric research in Western Asia, and in many regions archaeologists 
have still to construct even the most basic of chronological sequences. 

3 Becoming Neolithic 

In the days of the Iranian Prehistoric Project, "becoming Neolithic" was regarded 
largely as a matter of adopting a sedentary and food-producing lifestyle which 
should have originated in the most favorable regions of the Zagros "Hilly 
Flanks," as Braidwood had called them (Braidwood 1960). The domestication 
of plants (Helbaek 1969; Miller 2003) and animals (Zeder 2005) was regarded 
as critical to the maintenance of the earliest Neolithic communities of the high- 
lands. Where this process actually happened, and consequently where the earliest 
sedentary villages have to be sought - whether in the cooler climate of the high 
Zagros valleys, where sites such as Ganj Dareh seem to have had herd manage- 
ment strategies since the 8th millennium BC, or in the lowlands, where Choga 
Bonut and Ali Kosh are likewise regarded as examples of early sedentism - was 
an undecided question when research first began. What has become obvious 
during the last decades, however, is that the question has to be rephrased: today 
we assume that domestication is not the precondition but, rather, the effect of 
long-term human interference with specific animal populations through selective 
or opportunistic hunting (Zeder 2000). In such a scenario, selective human 
management would have created an environment of reproductive isolation for 
these animal stocks, thus encouraging genetic/epigenetic changes. Therefore, the 
question today is to seek the beginning of sedentism as a precondition for long- 
term interaction between humans and animal populations that would have 
preceded domestication by a considerable amount of time. 

504 Varieties of Early Village and, Town Life 

The appearance of sedentary hunters/gatherers/foragers in the Zagros during 
die 9th-8th millennia BC, as is now confirmed on the basis of radiocarbon dates, 
corresponds to parallel developments in other areas of Western Asia and especially 
in the eastern Fertile Crescent. It therefore vitiates the traditional "Levantine 
primacy" paradigm, which argued for a late arrival of the Neolithic way of life in 
the Zagros mountains parallel to an assumed, slow reforestation of the eastern 
Fertile Crescent at the end of the Pleistocene (Aurenche and Koszlowski 2000). 
Settling-down was a gradual process that was not accomplished once and forever: 
the earliest sedentary sites (e.g., Ganj Dareh, Asiab, Sarab, and Tepe Abdul 
Hosein) rarely produced solid architecture but rather accumulations of pits and 
fireplaces. Campsites or temporary shelters in caves may have been used by either 
hunting parties or herders (Hole 1987a). 

The communities that settled in the Zagros were most probably of local stock: 
the lithic assemblages of the Zagros Early Neolithic consist of microblade 
industries based on bullet cores, a tradition that can be linked to the earlier lithic 
traditions of the Epipaleolithic in Iran. Most importantly, the supposed gap 
between the Epipaleolithic and Neolithic periods, for which hardly any data were 
available until recently, is slowly beginning to disappear with new discoveries. 
The so-called Proto-Neolithic layers in Hajji Bahram Cave (Tsuneki et al. 2007) 
and Aceramic Neolithic remains at Rahmatabad (Bernbeck et al. 2005), both 
located in the Sivand environs of highland Fars, as well as Aceramic Neolithic 
sites in Luristan, clearly show that our current knowledge is incomplete and that 
there is a high probability that predecessors of the Pre-Pottery Neolithic (PPN) 
hunters were present in various parts of the highlands. Early Aceramic Neolithic 
occupations are also attested beyond the Zagros range - e.g., at Sang-e Chax- 
magh West in Northern Iran. The recently discovered Aceramic Neolithic site of 
Tepe Atashi in eastern Iran (Gharazhian, pers. comm.) indicates that such local 
strands of development can be expected also in other regions of highland Iran. 
Only the Epipaleolithic seal hunters' sites on the Caspian littoral, the caves of 
Hotu, Kamarband, and Dam Dam Cheshme (the latter in Turkmenistan), provide 
so far no evidence of continuous occupation into the Neolithic (Coon 1957). 

The early sedentary communities in the Iranian highlands relied on a broad 
spectrum economy based largely on wild resources (Flannery 1973). The first 
solid indices of deliberate herd management by humans in the Zagros mountains 
date, according to the most recent understanding of the paleo-osteological 
record, only to the late 8th millennium BC (Zeder 2000), at a time when seden- 
tary human communities pursuing a hunter- gatherer lifestyle had been present 
already for some time. These sedentary forager groups were responsible for tam- 
pering with local animal flocks through selective hunting and possibly herding. 
The animal stock in the Zagros region was distinctly different from its counterpart 
in the Levant (Zeder, pers. comm.) and was not brought there from distant 
areas, an observation that further underscores the local nature of the Iranian 

The Iranian Plateau 505 

Research undertaken since the 1990s in other parts of Western Asia has dem- 
onstrated that the transition to a fully Neolithic lifestyle cannot merely be defined 
as a change to a sedentary, food -producing lifestyle, be it gradual or not. It also 
comprises important shifts in mental and social concepts (Cauvin 1994; Hodder 
2001a; Watkins 2004). In highland Iran, a growing interdependency between 
the sedentary human communities and specific locales and landscapes seems to 
have favored the development of locally rooted memories and identity markers, 
especially through the presence of ancestral burials at sites. Regularly repeated 
rituals and feasts may have enforced the meaning of these ancestral sites, though 
the evidence is still scanty. In the Early Neolithic site of Sheikh Abad (Matthews 
et al. 2010), located in the Kermanshah region of the central Zagros, human 
burials were dug into the settlement. One of these was sprinlded with ocher, a 
hint at a tradition of ancestral commemoration. A neighboring building consisted 
of an extraordinary T-shaped room where the skulls of four wild goats and one 
wild sheep were set into the wall. A complete crane wing may represent the 
residue of a costume used during commemorative or other rituals. The Sheikh 
Abad evidence closely resembles observations made at Ganj Dareh, where 41 
adult and child burials were uncovered beneath house floors, and wild sheep 
skulls were mounted in a niche in the wall (Smith 1968). 

In comparison to the western and central parts of the Fertile Crescent, the 
archaeological record in the Iranian highlands remains so far rather exiguous with 
regard to ritual and symbolism. Since the abundance of spectacular finds in early 
Neolithic sites further west is the result largely fieldwork carried out since the 
1980s, however, the current research situation in Iran may not at all be repre- 
sentative, and one should be prepared for surprises as soon as systematic fieldwork 
fully resumes there. 

4 The Fully Established Pottery Neolithic 

It took more than two millennia for communities in parts of the Iranian highlands 
to adopt a fully Neolithic lifestyle that included, besides sedentism and cultivation/ 
herding, the mastering of various crafts, most importantiy the production of 
pottery, a development that occurred at the beginning of the 7th millennium BC. 
During this pottery Neolithic or Late Neolithic period, people lived in permanent 
villages in solid houses constructed from packed mud ( chineh) or mudbrick, and 
sustained their living through a wide range of resources, including animal hus- 
bandry and agriculture complemented by wild animals and plants. 

The earliest pottery-producing Neolithic sites are recorded in the high valleys 
of western Iran and northern Iraq. The site of Jarmo in Iraq provided the pro- 
totype for the early pottery-producing communities of the so-called Zagros group 
(Adams 1983) that is attested - e.g., in the latest occupation layers at Ganj Dareh 
(Hole 1987b). The characteristic proto-pottery of the Zagros group consists of 

506 Varieties of Early Village and. Town Life 

a badly fired, handmade "software" with coarse organic temper. The new tech- 
nology spread rapidly over long distances, and the earliest ceramic assemblages 
documented in widely separated locations such as Tal-e Iblis in southeastern Iran 
(Caldwell 1967; Evett 1967) and Tappe Sang-e Chaxmagh West in Damghan, 
northeastern Iran (Masuda 1984), share characteristic technological features of 
this software horizon, such as concave bases. 

Do these similarities indicate a common origin for all these early pottery-using 
groups? The rapid dispersal of the knowledge of pottery-making, together with 
the new techniques of subsistence across the highlands, is an argument against 
purely local development. Recent discussions of modes of cultural transmission 
over large distances have emphasized differentiated and layered networks in the 
earlier Neolithic (Asouti 2006; Watkins 2008; Ozdogan 2010) which may provide 
a useful model for the spread of the Pottery Neolithic to the Iranian highlands. 
Networks that allowed for long-distance contact certainly did exist, as is evident 
from the regular occurrence of exotic materials such as maritime shell, obsidian, 
semi-precious stones, bitumen, and even copper, which could only be obtained 
through organized exchange. 

The first decorated wares appeared a few centuries later - e.g., at Sarab (Hole 
1987a), where shortly after 7000 BC three distinct varieties of decorated pottery 
are attested. All three are constructed from slabs of organic tempered clay 
and are distinguished according to surface finish as either completely covered 
with red slip, or painted in red with spots and stripes in a characteristic fashion 
that Braidwood nicknamed "tadpole ware," or painted in red on clay-colored 
ground with geometric patterns. 

The apparent clumsiness of the earliest pottery production has often been 
interpreted as a sign of experimentation with a new material that became desir- 
able only after the necessity to store food (such as cereals) in solid containers had 
arisen. It seems, however, that with the help of a more precise chronology based 
on radiocarbon dates, a different line of development can be traced: the first 
pottery appears to have been part a continuous tradition following on from the 
earlier manufacture of fine stone vessels (Nieuwenhuyse et al. 2010). Indeed, 
the tadpole patterns of the Sarab ware closely resemble the marmorated appear- 
ance of calcite and alabaster vessels, just as the Dark Faced Burnished Wares of 
the western Fertile Crescent closely resemble the steatite vessels of the PPNB. If 
this line of argumentation holds up to chronological scrutiny, a socially and 
symbolically grounded impetus toward the introduction of pottery may be pos- 
tulated, instead of a mere material -practical need. 

The increasingly immobile way of life pursued by most members of the late 
Neolithic sedentary communities favored the formation of groups with increas- 
ingly differentiated regional identities (Weeks et al. 2006b). Pottery, with its 
unlimited possibilities of shape and decoration, was quickly adopted as the main 
marker of these new, localized networks and from the early 6th millennium BC 
onwards stylistic variation in pottery shape and decoration became extremely 

The Iranian Plateau 507 

great. The basal levels of many of the long settlement stratigraphies in the Iranian 
highlands go back to the 6th millennium BC Late Neolithic - e.g., at Tepe Sialic 
I (Ghirshman 1938; Fazeli Nashli et al. 2009). Older sedentary occupation in 
the highlands may have existed but is as yet not attested. In many regions, 
however, chronological sequences remain to be fully defined. 

Despite the stylistic variability expressed in pottery production, Late Neolithic 
communities in the Iranian highlands shared a number of features related to their 
social makeup and the subsistence strategies adopted. In the south and southwest 
of Iran, multi-cellular constructions of mud and mudbrick may have been com- 
munal storage facilities. In the northwestern part of the country, small individual 
houses were instead preferred, possibly indicating that smaller household units 
functioned as modules of the social fabric. Burials were underneath the houses in 
the northwest, a feature not as yet reported at sites with collective storage build- 
ings. Subsistence relied increasingly on agriculture and herding, supplemented by 
wild resources such as hunted animals and collected pistachios and wild fruits. 

If population numbers are used as a proxy to evaluate the reproductive success 
of the new subsistence strategies, then the Pottery Neolithic lifestyle can be con- 
sidered highly successful. The number of sites grew exponentially from the late 
7th to the late 6th millennium BC, as is attested in various survey records - e.g., 
in the Kur River Basin in Fars (Sumner 1977), where the chronological sequence 
is represented by the sites of Mushki-Bashi-Jari-Shamsabad, successively. In the 
Mushki period, only 8 sites are known; the Jari period is attested at 50 sites; and 
the Shamsabad period at 108. Whether this represents a continuous, rapid growth 
of population, as is generally assumed (Sumner 1977; Alden et al. 2004), or an 
initial rapid growth followed by a long period of slow growth (Weeks et al. 2006b: 
19-20), depends on the individual duration of each phase. Despite this bias of 
the archaeological record due to our remaining incapability to estimate the abso- 
lute length of individual periods, and the contemporaneity of sites assigned to 
the same archaeological period, the tendency of steady population growth seems 
to hold. In addition, early Pottery Neolithic sites tend to cluster in close proxim- 
ity to each other (Hole 1987c: 83), possibly the result of dependency relations 
between one initial "mother site" from which new sites branched off once a 
critical population size was reached. Similar patterns are recorded in northwestern 
Iran around Hasanlu (Voigt 1983), in the southern Caucasus Shulaveris- 
Shomutepe area (Kushnareva 1997), and in the Djeitun and Anau oases at the 
foot of the Kopet Dagh in the north Iranian/Turkmen borderlands (Kohl 1984). 

5 Technical and Social Innovations in the Chalcolithic Period 

Following on the steady increase of sedentary village population during the Late 
Neolithic, the 5th millennium BC brought divergent developments in the various 
regions of highland Iran. In the southern highlands new technologies of pottery 

508 Varieties of Early Village and. Town Life 

production were introduced: two-chambered pottery kilns now allowed for con- 
trolled firing temperatures above 1000°C (Alizadeh 1985a; Streily 2000). These 
were used for the production of a light-colored fine ware, painted with elaborate, 
dark-colored motifs that is diagnostic of the Bakun period, named after a prehis- 
toric site (Tal-e Bakun) close to Persepolis, where such pottery was first recovered 
(Herzfeld 1929). Related "black-on-buff wares" appear in numerous regional 
variants all across southern Iran. In their lain technology and ceramic properties, 
these wares are reminiscent of those found in the Mesopotamian Ubaid oikumene 
(Caldwell 1968a; Weeks et al. 2010). 

The appearance of the "black-on-buff wares" in highland southern Iran and 
their relationship to earlier, undecorated Shamsabad pottery have been a matter 
of much debate (Voigt and Dyson 1992; Petrie et al. 2009). The new style is so 
strikingly different from Shamsabad wares that continuous development out of 
the former seemed impossible. Therefore an introduction from a region with 
older traditions of painted wares, such as Khuzestan, was advocated. The dis- 
semination of the new style was thought to be linked to the adoption of a mobile, 
migrating lifestyle by some segments of the population (Alizadeh 2006). Only 
recently have reinvestigations at Tall-i Jari yielded ceramic materials that may 
bridge this gap (Alizadeh 2004; Alizadeh, Kouchoukos, et al. 2004) and with an 
increase in archaeological evidence this question may be solved. 

New pottery styles are only the most obvious markers of significant technologi- 
cal change during the 5th millennium BC. Other changes can be observed in the 
agropastoral economy. The proportion of caprids in the osteological record rose 
sharply in the Bakun period, and herding is assumed to have been a major pillar 
of subsistence (Mashkour 2006b). An emphasis on caprid (especially goat) 
herding correlates with the introduction of wool and fiber-working, attested 
through the proliferation of spindle whorls that form a regular component of 
material culture at Bakun sites (Sudo 2010). Other innovations included the use 
of stamp seals for the marking of containers, best attested at Tal-e Bakun (Ali- 
zadeh 2006), and the beginning of copper smelting (Ch. 1.16). 

Social changes during the 5th millennium BC can also be deduced indirectly 
from settlement patterns and architecture. In the Kur River Basin in Fars, settle- 
ment sizes indicate an at least two-tier settlement hierarchy, with centers up to 
7 hectares, and smaller sites of 1 hectare. Population density seems to have 
increased from the Early to the Middle Bakun period, followed by a sharp decline 
in site numbers in Late Bakun (Sumner 1990a). In the Mamasani area though, 
the increase in population seems to have proceeded steadily until the late Bakun 
phase (Zeidi et al. 2009). The Bakun period also provides the first evidence of 
special-purpose buildings. In the uppermost layer of Middle Bakun, Tal-e Gap 
was a one-room "shrine" (Egami and Sono 1962). The multi-room "administra- 
tive building" at Tal-e Bakun, where most of the seal impressions were found, 
suggests central control over some basic goods (Langsdorff and McCown 1942; 
Alizadeh 2006). 

The Iranian Plateau 509 

In contrast to the rapid changes evident in pottery style in southern Iran, 
communities on the central plateau grew gradually and settlement hierarchies 
with larger centers and smaller satellite sites developed in the landscape. These 
groups produced black-on-red, fine-burnished Cheshme-Ali or Sialic II wares, 
fired in single-chambered open kilns of a type found all over the central plateau 
- e.g., at Tee Pardis (Fazeli et al. 2007a), but also further north in the 
Turkmenistan/Kopet Dagh area. 

In the northwestern part of the country, however, occupation appears to have 
been interrupted for several centuries in the late 6th millennium BC and only 
resumed sometime during the 5th millennium BC by communities that used so- 
called Dalma wares with their characteristic red-on-white painted designs and 
plastic surface decoration of fingernail impressions and stitches (Voigt 1983). 
Such a gap in occupation is attested over a wider area, including the southern 
Caucasus, and may reflect a change in preferences for settlement locations. 

6 Craft Specialization and Trade Contacts 

In southern Iran, a decline in the number of settlements is recorded in the late 
5th millennium BC - i.e., toward the end of the Bakun period. The subsequent 
Lapui phase, named after a small, unexcavated site in the Kur River Basin, is 
hardly known except for its peculiar red burnished pottery. It has been dated on 
the basis of the stratigraphic sequences of Tol-e Nurabad and Tol- Spid (Petrie 
et al. 2007), and was recently encountered in rescue excavations at Tappe Mehrali 
in Fars (Sardari Zarchi and Razai 2008). 

In contrast to southern Iran, cultural development on the Iranian plateau 
proceeded without noticeable interruption well into the 4th millennium BC. 
Pottery production shifted gradually from the black-on-red of the Sialic 11/ 
Cheshmeh Ali tradition to black-on-buff wares subsumed under Sialic III/Hissar 
II. Evidence of this new style is centered on the western Iranian plateau, but is 
found over a wide area, from the northern edge of the Dasht-e Kavir to the 
Kangavar Valley in Luristan. It is linked to the introduction of a new technology, 
a variant of the two-chambered pottery lain that had been used in southern Iran 
during the Bakun period. Early Sialic III shapes and decoration attest to continu- 
ity in craft production (Nokandeh 2010a) which differ from the south Iranian, 
Bakun tradition. 

During the earlier 4th millennium BC, the sites on the Iranian plateau engaged 
in a process of specialization in the manufacture of specific materials. Traders and 
craftsmen at Tepe Hissar on the northern edge of the desert acted as intermediar- 
ies in the lapis lazuli trade from Afghanistan, engaging in the preparation of 
blanks and finished products (Casanova 1998). Copper smelting and silver refine- 
ment were other newly introduced lines of craft production in workshops located 
along the southern and western edge of the desert, at Tepe Sialic, Arisman, and 

510 Varieties of Early Village and, Town Life 

Ghabristan (Pernicka 2004; Majidzadeh 2008b). These manufacturing centers 
were all located some distance from the sources of the raw material that they 
processed. Lapis lazuli occurs only in the Badakhshan mountains of northern 
Afghanistan. The silver ores processed in Arisman and Sialic were obtained from 
the Anarak region of central Iran, about 200 kilometers further east. The exist- 
ence of these manufacturing centers can thus not be explained by their proximity 
to exotic raw material sources. Rather, each relied on a long-distance supply 
system. The introduction of domesticated ass, attested in central Iran since the 
4th millennium BC (Benecke 2011; Potts 2011), may have been a crucial step in 
the establishing of these supply systems. 

The finished products manufactured in these craft centers found their 
way through trade into the households of consumers and institutions in the 
Mesopotamian lowlands. Contact between the sites on the desert rim with 
the emergent Uruk period institutions in the lowlands is attested during the later 
Sialic III period in the form of occasional administrative devices such as seals and 
tokens at highland sites. Potters in the highlands emulated shapes known at the 
lowland sites, probably linked to fancy new food and drink habits, and bevel rim 
bowls, leitfossils of Uruk sites in Mesopotamia during the second half of the 4th 
millennium BC, were produced at the highland sites (Potts 2009; Borofflca and 
Parzinger 2011). 

7 Proto-urban Centers in the Highlands: 
The Proto-Elamite Period 

Contacts between the highland manufacturing centers and the emergent states 
in the lowlands prepared the groundwork for the establishment of the first proto- 
urban center in the highlands. Around the middle of the 4th millennium BC, 
sedentary occupation at most highland centers was interrupted at least briefly 
(Helwing 2004). Shortly afterwards, new settlements sprang up all over southern 
and central Iran, either on previously occupied sites such as Tepe Sialic, Tepe 
Yahya, and Tal-e Iblis, or on formerly unsettled sites such as Tal-e Malyan and 
Arisman. There is some evidence that this transition was induced by some 
sort of crisis or collapse: established, large settlements were abandoned and at 
some of these (e.g., Sialic) destruction layers can be observed. The resettlement 
brought a concentration of population in a few large centers, without associated, 
smaller satellite sites (Helwing and Chegini 2011). The new settlements had a 
planned, urban architectural layout and made use of standardized Riemchen 
bricks (long, thin, and square in section). Ceramic styles indicate a selective 
emulation of lowland prototypes of the Late Uruk to Jamdat Nasr period. An 
original writing style was adopted during the later phase of the Proto-Elamite 
period, and cylinder seals are found in the highland sites as well, indicating 
familiarity with this system of trade control. Craft production reached a highly 

The Iranian Plateau 511 

professional level, as is evident from the use of the potter's wheel, and the intro- 
duction of copper smelting furnaces that increased the production of copper 
artifacts exponentially (Sumner 2003; Vatandoust et al. 2011). Apparently, sites 
specialized even further in the working of specific raw materials: some sites such 
as Arisman engaged in metal production, others such as Tepe Hissar produced 
lapis lazuli blanks. Another specialized field was the production of elaborately 
soft-stone vessels in the Jiroft area (Kohl 1975, 2001) and alabaster vessels at 
Shahr-i Sokhta in easternmost Iran (Casanova 2008). 

The development of handicraft centers in favorable locations around the 
central desert and in the high valleys of the Zagros relied on a well-established 
network of trade routes. With domesticated asses available for transport since the 
4th millennium BC, and witii refined technologies that allow for large-scale 
output - e.g., in the metal and stone vessel sector - towns in the Iranian highlands 
prospered by supplying the lowland settlements in Khuzestan and Mesopotamia, 
as well as the market centers on the Persian Gulf, with prestige goods: metal, 
jewelry, and stone objects, and probably other invisible products as well. This 
complex trade network turns the Iranian highlands into a blossoming landscape 
for a few centuries during the late 4th/early 3rd millennium BC, before it again 
became more and more isolated and finally fell apart. 


For a general overview, focused on Western Iran but with links to other regions, see 
contributions in Hole (1987a). Up-to-date chronology is found in Fazeli Nashli et al. 
(2009), while Dyson (1992) and Voigt and Dyson (1992) are still useful for their general 
outline. Animal domestication has been treated exhaustively by Zeder (2005). For aspects 
of the most recent field research into the Neolithic, see Alizadeh (2006), Weeks et al. 
(2006), and Pollock et al. (2010). For a general assessment of the Chalcolithic period, 
see Weeks et al. (2010). The classic on the emergence of urbanism and long-distance 
networks is Amiet (1983), while updated opinions are discussed in various recent excava- 
tion reports, among others Potts (2001a) and (2009), and Vatandoust et al. (2011). The 
role of metallurgy as one of the main triggers for the emergence of social complexity is 
emphasized in Matthews and Fazeli (2004) and Helwing (2011). Dahl (2009) treats the 
earliest appearance of writing.